KIC 8462852

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KIC 8462852
KIC 8462852 in IR and UV.png
KIC 8462852 in infrared and ultraviolet
Observation data
Epoch J2000.0      Equinox J2000.0 (ICRS)
Constellation Cygnus
Right ascension 20h 06m 15.457s
Declination +44° 27′ 24.61″
Apparent magnitude (V) +11.705±0.017
Evolutionary stage Main sequence[1]
Spectral type F3 V/IV
B−V color index 0.557
V−R color index 0.349
R−I color index 0.305
J−H color index 0.212
J−K color index 0.264
Distance 1480 ly
(454 pc)
Absolute magnitude (MV) 3.08[1][2]
Mass 1.43 M
Radius 1.58 R
Luminosity (bolometric) 4.7 L
Luminosity (visual, LV) L
Surface gravity (log g) 4.0±0.2 cgs
Temperature 6750±120 K
Metallicity 0.0±0.1
Rotation 0.8797±0.0001 days[1]
Rotational velocity (v sin i) 84±4 km/s
Other designations
TYC 3162-665-1,[1] 2MASS J20061546+4427248[1]
Database references
KIC data

KIC 8462852[1] (eponymously Tabby's Star after lead author Tabetha S. Boyajian,[3] or WTF Star, formally for "Where's The Flux?",[4][5][6][7] but also a reference to an expression of disbelief[8]) is an F-type main-sequence star located in the constellation Cygnus approximately 454 parsecs (1,480 ly) from Earth. Unusual light fluctuations of the star were discovered by citizen scientists as part of the Planet Hunters project, and in September 2015 astronomers and citizen scientists associated with the project posted a preprint of a paper on arXiv describing the data and possible interpretations.[1] The discovery was made from data collected by the Kepler space telescope,[1][9] which observes changes in the brightness of distant stars in order to detect exoplanets.[10]

KIC 8462852 is so far the only known star with such behavior among the 150,000 stars monitored by the Kepler mission.[11]

Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the star's large irregular changes in brightness as measured by its unusual light curve. The leading hypothesis, based on a lack of observed infrared light, is that of a swarm of cold, dusty comet fragments in a highly eccentric orbit.[12][13][14] Many small masses in "tight formation" orbiting the star have also been proposed.[9] The changes in brightness could be signs of activity associated with intelligent extraterrestrial life building a Dyson swarm.[9][15][16][17] The SETI Institute's initial radio reconnaissance of KIC 8462852, however, found no evidence of technology-related radio signals from the star.[18][19][20][21]

Apparent location

Map showing location of NGC 6866. KIC 8462852 is northeast between NGC 6866 and ο¹ Cygni.

KIC 8462852 in Cygnus[22] is located roughly halfway between the major visually apparent bright stars Deneb (α Cyg, α Cygni, Alpha Cygni) and Delta Cygni (δ Cyg, δ Cygni) to the eye as part of the Northern Cross.[23] KIC 8462852 is situated south of Omicron¹ Cygni (ο¹ Cygni, 31 Cygni), and northeast of the star cluster NGC 6866.[23] While only a few arcminutes away from the cluster, it is unrelated and closer to the Sun than it is to the star cluster.

With an apparent magnitude of 11.7, the star cannot be seen by the naked eye, but is visible with a 5-inch (130 mm) telescope[24] in a dark sky with little light pollution.

History of observations

KIC 8462852 was observed as early as in year 1890.[25][26][27]

The star was cataloged in the Tycho, 2MASS, UCAC4 and WISE astronomical catalogs[28] (published in year 1997, 2003, 2009 and 2012 respectively).[29][30][31][32]

As of 2010, the star was observed by SuperWASP ground observatories for 3 seasons.[33]

The main source of the information about the luminosity fluctuations of KIC 8462852 is the Kepler space observatory, which was launched in 2009.[34]


Observations of the luminosity of the star by the Kepler space telescope show small, frequent, non-periodic dips in brightness, along with two large recorded dips in brightness appearing to occur roughly 750 days apart. The amplitude of the changes in the star's brightness, and the aperiodicity of the changes, mean that this star is of particular interest for astronomers.[17] The star's changes in brightness are consistent with many small masses orbiting the star in "tight formation".[9]

The first major dip, on 5 March 2011, obscured the star's brightness by up to 15%, and the other (on 28 February 2013) by up to 22%. In comparison, a planet the size of Jupiter would only obscure a star of this size by 1%, indicating that whatever is blocking light during the star's major dips is not a planet, but rather something covering up to half the width of the star.[17] Due to the failure of two of Kepler's reaction wheels, the star's predicted 750-day dip around April 2015 was not recorded;[1][16] further observations are planned for May 2017.[16]

Light curves

In addition to the day-long dimmings, a study of a century's worth of photographic plates suggest the star has gradually faded from 1890 to 1989 by about 20%, which would be unprecedented for any F-type main sequence star.[25][26] However, teasing accurate magnitudes from long term photographic archives is a complex procedure, requiring adjustment for equipment changes, and is strongly dependent on the choice of comparison stars. A contrasting study, examining the same photographic plates, concluded that the possible century-long dimming was likely a data artifact, and not a real astrophysical event.[27] It is hoped that reviews of additional photographic archives can settle this issue.


Based on the star's spectral and star type, the star's changes in brightness could not be attributed to intrinsic variability,[1] so a few hypotheses have been proposed involving material orbiting the star and blocking its light, but none of these fully explain the observed data.

Some of the proposed explanations involve instrument or data artifacts, variable B(e) star, interstellar dust, a series of giant planets with very large ring structures,[35][36] a recently captured asteroid field.[1] and undergoing Late Heavy Bombardment.[12][37]

Younger star with coalescing material around it

Artist's impression of a young star with coalescing material around it

Astronomer Jason Wright (who was consulted by Boyajian)[7][38] and others who have studied KIC 8462852 have suggested in a follow-up paper that if the star is younger than its position and speed would suggest, then it may still have coalescing material around it.[4]

A 0.8–4.2 micron spectroscopic study of the system using the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility found no evidence for coalescing material within a few astronomical units of the mature central star.[12][37]

Planetary debris field

Artist's impression of a massive collision with a proto-planet

High-resolution spectroscopy and imaging observations have also been made, as well as spectral energy distribution analyses using the Nordic Optical Telescope in Spain.[1][35] A massive collision scenario would create warm dust that glows in infrared wavelengths, but there is no observed excess infrared energy, ruling out massive planetary collision debris.[17] Other researchers think the planetary debris field explanation is unlikely, given the very low probability that Kepler would ever witness such an event due to the rarity of collisions of such size.[1]

A 0.8–4.2 micron spectroscopic study of the system using the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility found no evidence for hot close-in dust, circumstellar matter from an evaporating or exploding planet within a few astronomical units of the central star[12][37]

A study of past infrared data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer found no evidence for an excess of infrared emission from the star, which would have been an indicator of warm dust grains that could have come from catastrophic collisions of meteors or planets in the system. This absence of emission supports the hypothesis that a swarm of cold comets on an unusually eccentric orbit could be responsible for the star's unique light curve, but more studies are needed.[12][39]

A cloud of disintegrating comets

Artist's impression of an orbiting swarm of dusty comet fragments, which are a possible explanation for the unusual light signal of KIC 8462852.[12]

One proposed explanation for the star's odd reduction in light is that it is due to a cloud of disintegrating comets orbiting the star elliptically.[1][12][14][40] Under this scenario, gravity from a nearby star may have caused comets from the star's Oort cloud to fall in toward the star. Evidence supporting this hypothesis includes a red dwarf within 132 billion kilometers (885 AU) of KIC 8462852. However, the notion that disturbed Oort cloud comets orbiting elliptically close to the star could exist in high enough numbers to obscure 22% of the star's observed luminosity has been doubted.[17]

Submillimetre wavelength observations searching for farther-out cold dust in the system's Kuiper Belt suggest that a distant "catastrophic" planetary disruption explanation is unlikely; the possibility of a disrupted Kuiper Belt scattering comets into the inner system is still to be determined.[41]

A megastructure

Artist's impression of a modification of a Dyson swarm

Astronomer Jason Wright[7][38] and others who have studied KIC 8462852, hypothesized that the objects eclipsing the star could be parts of a megastructure made by an alien civilization, such as a Dyson swarm,[4][9][40][42][43][44] a hypothetical structure that an advanced civilization might build around a star to intercept some of its light for their energy needs.[45][46][47] Due to extensive media coverage on this matter, KIC 8462852 has been compared by Kepler's Steve Howell with KIC 4110611, another star with an odd light curve (which proved, after years of research, to be a part of a five-star system).[48] Regarding the current light curve data of KIC 8462852, Wright has emphasized the importance of upcoming spectral studies.[49] According to Wright, the likelihood of extraterrestrial intelligence being the cause of the dimming is very low; however, the star is an outstanding SETI target because natural explanations have yet to fully explain the dimming phenomenon.[4][42]

On 19 October 2015, the SETI Institute announced that it had begun using the Allen Telescope Array to look for radio emissions from possible intelligent extraterrestrial life in the vicinity of the star.[50][51] After an initial two-week survey, the SETI Institute reported in November 2015 that it found no evidence of technology-related radio signals from the star system KIC 8462852.[18][19][20][21] In February 2016 another SETI related study, one using archival VERITAS gamma ray observatory observations from 2009 to 2015, found no evidence of pulsed optical beacons associated with KIC 8462852.[52]

Follow-up studies

Many optical telescopes are monitoring KIC 8462852 in anticipation of another multi-day dimming event, with planned follow-up observations of a dimming event using large telescopes equipped with spectrographs to determine if the eclipsing mass is a solid object, or is composed of dust or gas.[53] Additional follow-up observations may involve the ground-based Green Bank Telescope, the Very Large Array Radio Telescope,[35][54] and future orbital telescopes dedicated to exoplanetology such as WFIRST, TESS, and PLATO.[42][47]

See also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 Boyajian, T. S.; LaCourse, D. M.; Rappaport, S. A.; Fabrycky, D.; Fischer, D. A.; et al. (April 2016). "Planet Hunters IX. KIC 8462852 – where's the flux?". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 457 (4): 3988–4004. Bibcode:2016MNRAS.457.3988B. arXiv:1509.03622Freely accessible. doi:10.1093/mnras/stw218. 
  2. Pecaut, Mark J.; Mamajek, Eric E. (September 2013). "Intrinsic Colors, Temperatures, and Bolometric Corrections of Pre-main-sequence Stars". The Astrophysical Journal Supplement. 208 (1). 9. Bibcode:2013ApJS..208....9P. arXiv:1307.2657Freely accessible. doi:10.1088/0067-0049/208/1/9. 
  3. Wenz, John (9 February 2016). "NASA's Next Great Telescope Will Settle This Alien Megastructure Mystery For Good". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 13 February 2016. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Wright, Jason (15 October 2015). "KIC 8462852: Where's the Flux?". AstroWright. Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved 16 October 2015. 
  5. Newsome, John (16 October 2015). "Space anomaly gets extraterrestrial intelligence experts' attention". CNN News. Retrieved 16 October 2015. 
  6. "Discovery of a strange star could mean alien life". Fox News. 15 October 2015. Retrieved 16 October 2015. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 King, Bob (16 October 2015). "What's Orbiting KIC 8462852 – Shattered Comet or Alien Megastructure?". Universe Today. Retrieved 16 October 2015. 
  8. Strom, Marcus (15 October 2015), It's either aliens or a swarm of comets: scientists baffled by WTF 001, our galaxy's strangest star, The Sydney Morning Herald, retrieved 16 October 2015 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Andersen, Ross (13 October 2015). "The Most Mysterious Star in Our Galaxy". The Atlantic. Retrieved 13 October 2015. 
  10. Grush, Loren (16 October 2015). "Why it's so hard for astronomers to discuss the possibility of alien life". The Verge. Retrieved 17 October 2015. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 Clavin, Whitney; Johnson, Michele (24 November 2015). "Strange Star Likely Swarmed by Comets". NASA. Retrieved 24 November 2015. 
  13. Griffin, Andrew (25 November 2015). "Star that could have ‘alien megastructure’ around it is almost certainly covered by a swarm of comets, Nasa says". The Independent. Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Bodman, Eva H. L.; Quillen, Alice (27 November 2015). "KIC 8462852: Transit of a Large Comet Family". arXiv:1511.08821Freely accessible [astro-ph.EP]. 
  15. Kaplan, Sarah (15 October 2015). "The strange star that has serious scientists talking about an alien megastructure". The Washington Post. Retrieved 15 October 2015. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Aron, Jacob (18 September 2015). "Citizen scientists catch cloud of comets orbiting distant star". New Scientist. Retrieved 15 October 2015. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 Plait, Phil (14 October 2015). "Did Astronomers Find Evidence of an Alien Civilization? (Probably Not. But Still Cool.)". Slate. Retrieved 15 October 2015. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 "Looking For Deliberate Radio Signals From KIC 8462852". 5 November 2015. Retrieved 5 November 2015. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Looking for Deliberate Radio Signals from KIC 8462852" (Press release). The SETI Institute. 5 November 2015. Retrieved 8 November 2015. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 Harp, G. R.; Richards, Jon; Shostak, Seth; Tarter, J. C.; Vakoch, Douglas A.; et al. (5 November 2015). "Radio SETI Observations of the Anomalous Star KIC 8462852". arXiv:1511.01606Freely accessible [astro-ph.EP]. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 Schuetz, Marlin; Vakoch, Douglas A.; Shostak, Seth; Richards, Jon (8 December 2015). "Optical SETI Observations of the Anomalous Star KIC 8462852". arXiv:1512.02388Freely accessible [astro-ph.EP].  Submitted to The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
  22. "KIC10 Search Results". Space Telescope Science Institute. Retrieved 16 October 2015. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 Sinnott, Roger W. (2010). Sky & Telescope's Pocket Sky Atlas (3rd ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Sky Publishing. ISBN 978-1-931559-31-7. 
  24. Masi, Gianluca (16 October 2015). "KIC 8462852: A star and its secrets". The Virtual Telescope Project 2.0. Retrieved 22 October 2015. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 Aron, Jacob (15 January 2016). "Comets can't explain weird ‘alien megastructure’ star after all". New Scientist. Retrieved 16 January 2016. 
  26. 26.0 26.1 Schaefer, Bradley E. (13 January 2016). "KIC 8462852 Faded at an Average Rate of 0.165+-0.013 Magnitudes Per Century From 1890 To 1989". arXiv:1601.03256Freely accessible [astro-ph.SR]. 
  27. 27.0 27.1 Hippke, Michael; Angerhausen, Daniel (8 February 2016). "KIC 8462852 did likely not fade during the last 100 years". arXiv:1601.07314v2Freely accessible [astro-ph.EP]. 
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 Rzetelny, Xaq (16 October 2015). "Something—we're not sure what—is radically dimming a star's light". Ars Technica. Retrieved 17 October 2015. 
  36. Siegel, Ethan (16 October 2015). "No, Astronomers Probably Haven't Found 'Alien Megastructures'". Forbes. Retrieved 17 October 2015. 
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Lisse, Carey; Sitko, Michael; Marengo, Massimo (December 2015). "IRTF/SPeX Observations of the Unusual Kepler Light Curve System KIC8462852". The Astrophysical Journal Letters. 815 (2). L27. Bibcode:2015ApJ...815L..27L. arXiv:1512.00121Freely accessible. doi:10.1088/2041-8205/815/2/L27. 
  38. 38.0 38.1 Laker, Chris (16 October 2015). "‘Alien megastructure’ may explain light patterns from ‘bizarre’ star, say scientists". Retrieved 17 October 2015. 
  39. Marengo, Massimo; Hulsebus, Alan; Willis, Sarah (November 2015). "KIC 8462852: The Infrared Flux". The Astrophysical Journal Letters. 814 (1). L15. Bibcode:2015ApJ...814L..15M. arXiv:1511.07908Freely accessible. doi:10.1088/2041-8205/814/1/L15. 
  40. 40.0 40.1 Fecht, Sarah (13 October 2015). "Have We Detected Megastructures Built By Aliens Around A Distant Star? Or Just A Cloud Of Comets? Scientists Want To Investigate Further". Popular Science. Retrieved 14 October 2015. 
  41. Thompson, M. A.; Scicluna, P.; Kemper, F.; Geach, J. E.; Dunham, M. M.; Morata, O.; Ertel, S.; Ho, P. T. P.; Dempsey, J.; Coulson, I.; Petitpas, G.; Kirstensen, L. E. (14 December 2015). "Constraints on the circumstellar dust around KIC 8462852". arXiv:1512.03693Freely accessible [astro-ph.SR].  Submitted to Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 Wright, Jason T.; Cartier, Kimberly M. S.; Zhao, Ming; Jontof-Hutter, Daniel; Ford, Eric B. (January 2016). "The Ĝ Search for Extraterrestrial Civilizations with Large Energy Supplies. IV. The Signatures and Information Content of Transiting Megastructures". The Astrophysical Journal. 816 (1). 17. Bibcode:2016ApJ...816...17W. arXiv:1510.04606Freely accessible. doi:10.3847/0004-637X/816/1/17. 
  43. "Good night, sleep tight: Advanced alien civilisations rare or absent in the local Universe" (Press release). ASTRON. 15 September 2015. Retrieved 15 October 2015. 
  44. Williams, Lee (15 October 2015). "Astronomers may have found giant alien 'megastructures' orbiting star near the Milky Way". The Independent. Retrieved 15 October 2015. 
  45. Jones, Morris (November–December 2015). "Reconsidering macro-artefacts in SETI searches". Acta Astronautica. 116: 161–165. doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2015.07.011. 
  46. O'Neill, Ian (14 October 2015). "Has Kepler Discovered an Alien Megastructure?". Retrieved 17 October 2015. 
  47. 47.0 47.1 Siemion, Andrew (29 September 2015). "Prepared Statement by Andrew Siemion – Hearing on Astrobiology". House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Retrieved 19 October 2015. 
  48. "Mysterious star stirs controversy in astronomy world". The Express Tribune. Agence France-Presse. 20 October 2015. 
  49. Orwig, Jessica (15 October 2015). "We spoke with some of the astronomers who discovered the 'alien' megastructure to find out if it's fact or fiction". Business Insider. 
  50. Wall, Mike (19 October 2015). "Search For Intelligent Aliens Near Bizarre Dimming Star Has Begun". Retrieved 20 October 2015. 
  51. Orwig, Jessica (23 October 2015). "Scientists are days from finding out if that mysterious star could actually harbor aliens". Business Insider. 
  52. Abeysekara, A.U.; et al. (3 February 2016). "A Search for Brief Optical Flashes Associated with the SETI Target KIC 8462852". arXiv:1602.00987Freely accessible [astro-ph.IM]. 
  53. Wall, Mike (28 October 2015). "'Alien Megastructure' Mystery May Soon Be Solved". Retrieved 28 October 2015. 
  54. Mack, Eric (17 October 2015). "The story behind 'alien megastructures' scientists may have found (but probably didn't)". CNET. Retrieved 19 October 2015. 

External links

Coordinates: Sky map 20h 06m 15.457s, +44° 27′ 24.61″